Announcing: The great bridge between communities

In the deep dark lurks of the internet, several proactive lesswrong and diaspora leaders have been meeting each day.  If we could have cloaks and silly hats; we would.

We have been discussing the great diversification, and noticed some major hubs starting to pop up.  The ones that have been working together include:

  • Lesswrong slack
  • SlateStarCodex Discord
  • Reddit/Rational Discord
  • Lesswrong Discord
  • Exegesis (unofficial rationalist tumblr)

The ones that we hope to bring together in the future include (on the willingness of those servers):

  • Lesswrong IRC (led by Gwern)
  • Slate Star Codex IRC
  • AGI slack
  • Transhumanism Discord
  • Artificial Intelligence Discord

How will this work?

About a year ago, the lesswrong slack tried to bridge across to the lesswrong IRC.  That was bad.  From that experience we learnt a lot that can go wrong, and have worked out how to avoid those mistakes.  So here is the general setup.

Each server currently has it’s own set of channels, each with their own style of talking and addressing problems, and sharing details and engaging with each other.  We definitely don’t want to do anything that will harm those existing cultures.  In light of this, taking the main channel from one server and mashing it into the main channel of another server is going to reincarnate into HELL ON EARTH.  and generally leave both sides with the sentiment that “<the other side> is wrecking up <our> beautiful paradise”.  Some servers may have a low volume buzz at all times, other servers may become active for bursts, it’s not good to try to marry those things.

Logistics:

Room: Lesswrong-Slack-Open

Bridged to:

  • exegesis#lwslack_bridge
  • Discord-Lesswrong#lw_slack_main
  • R/rational#lw_slack_open
  • SSC#bridge_slack

I am in <exegesis, D/LW, R/R, SSC> what does this mean?

If you want to peek into the lesswrong slack and see what happens in their #open channel.  You can join or unmute your respective channel and listen in, or contribute (two way relay) to their chat.  Obviously if everyone does this at once we end up spamming the other chat and probably after a week we cut the bridge off because it didn’t work.  So while it’s favourable to increase the community; be mindful of what goes on across the divide and try not to anger our friends.

I am in Lesswrong-Slack, what does this mean?

We have new friends!  Posts in #open will be relayed to all 4 children rooms where others can contribute if they choose.  Mostly they have their own servers to chat on, and if they are not on an info-diet already, then maybe they should be.  We don’t anticipate invasion or noise.

Why do they get to see our server and we don’t get to see them?

So glad you asked – we do.  There is an identical set up for their server into our bridge channels.  in fact the whole diagram looks something like this:

Server Main channel Slack-Lesswrong Discord-Exegesis Discord-Lesswrong Discord-r/rational Discord-SSC
Slack-Lesswrong Open lwslack_open lw_slack_main lw_slack_open bridge_slack
Discord-Exegesis Main #bridge_rat_tumblr exegesis_main exegesis_rattumb_main bridge_exegesis
Discord-Lesswrong Main #Bridge_discord_lw lwdiscord_main lw_discord_main bridge_lw_disc
Discord-r/rational General #bridge_r-rational_dis redditratdiscord_general reddirati_main bridge_r_rational
Discord-SSC General #bridge_ssc_discord sscdiscord_general ssc_main ssc_discord_gen

Pretty right? No it’s not.  But that’s in the backend.

For extra clarification, the rows are the channels that are linked.  Which is to say that Discord-SSC, is linked to a child channel in each of the other servers.  The last thing we want to do is impact this existing channels in a negative way.

But what if we don’t want to share our open and we just want to see the other side’s open?  (/our talk is private, what about confidential and security?)

Oh you mean like the prisoners dilemma?  Where you can defect (not share) and still be rewarded (get to see other servers).  Yea it’s a problem.  Tends to be when one group defects, that others also defect.  There is a chance that the bridge doesn’t work.  That this all slides, and we do spam each other, and we end up giving up on the whole project.  If it weren’t worth taking the risk we wouldn’t have tried.

We have not rushed into this bridge thing, we have been talking about it calmly and slowly and patiently for what seems like forever.  We are all excited to be taking a leap, and keen to see it take off.

Yes, security is a valid concern, walled gardens being bridged into is a valid concern, we are trying our best.  We are just as hesitant as you, and being very careful about the process.  We want to get it right.

So if I am in <server1> and I want to talk to <server3> I can just post in the <bridge-to-server2> room and have the message relayed around to server 3 right?

Whilst that is correct, please don’t do that.  You wouldn’t like people relaying through your main to talk to other people.  Also it’s pretty silly, you can just post in your <servers1> main and let other people see it if they want to.

This seems complicated, why not just have one room where everyone can go and hang out?

  1. How do you think we ended up with so many separate rooms
  2. Why don’t we all just leave <your-favourite server> and go to <that other server>?  It’s not going to happen

Why don’t all you kids get off my lawn and stay in your own damn servers?

Thank’s grandpa.  No one is coming to invade, we all have our own servers and stuff to do, we don’t NEED to be on your lawn, but sometimes it’s nice to know we have friends.

<server2> shitposted our server, what do we do now?

This is why we have mods, why we have mute and why we have ban.  It might happen but here’s a deal; don’t shit on other people and they won’t shit on you.  Also if asked nicely to leave people alone, please leave people alone.  Remember anyone can tap out of any discussion at any time.

I need a picture to understand all this.

Great!  Friends on exegesis made one for us.


Who are our new friends:

Lesswrong Slack

Lesswrong slack has been active since 2015, and has a core community. The slack has 50 channels for various conversations on specific topics, the #open channel is for general topics and has all kinds of interesting discoveries shared here.

Discord-Exegesis (private, entry via tumblr)

Exegesis is a discord set up by a tumblr rationalist for all his friends (not just rats). It took off so well and became such a hive in such a short time that it’s now a regular hub.

Discord-Lesswrong

Following Exegesis’s growth, a discord was set up for lesswrong, it’s not as active yet, but has the advantage of a low barrier to entry and it’s filled with lesswrongers.

Discord-SSC

Scott posted a link on an open thread to the SSC discord and now it holds activity from users that hail from the SSC comment section. it probably has more conversation about politics than other servers but also has every topic relevant to his subscribers.

Discord-r/rational

reddit rational discord grew from the rationality and rational fiction subreddit, it’s quite busy and covers all topics.


As at the publishing of this post; the bridge is not live, but will go live when we flip the switch.


Meta: this took 1 hour to write (actualy time writing) and half way through I had to stop and have a voice conference about it to the channels we were bridging.

Cross posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/lw/oqz

Posted in lesswrong | Leave a comment

Cultivate the desire to X

This post is duplicated from the original.

Original post: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/ndl/cultivate_the_desire_to_x/


Recently I have found myself encouraging people to cultivate the desire to X.

Examples that you might want to cultivate interest in include:

  • Diet
  • Organise ones self
  • Plan for the future
  • be a goal-oriented thinker
  • build the tools
  • Anything else in the list of common human goals
  • Getting healthy sleep
  • Being less wrong
  • Trusting people more
  • Trusting people less
  • exercise
  • interest in a topic (cars, fashion, psychology etc.)

Why do we need to cultivate?

We don’t.  But sometimes we can’t just “do”.  Lot’s of reasons are reasonable reasons to not be able to just “do” the thing:

  • Some things are scary
  • Some things need planning
  • Some things need research
  • Some things are hard
  • Some things are a leap of faith
  • Some things can be frustrating to accept
  • Some things seem stupid (well if exercising is so great why don’t I already automatically want to do it)
  • Other excuses exist.

On some level you have decided you want to do X; on some other level you have not yet committed to doing it.  Easy tasks can get done quickly.  More complicated tasks are not so easy to do right away.

Well if it were easy enough to just successfully do the thing – you can go ahead and do the thing (TTYL flying to the moon tomorrow – yea nope).

  1. your system 1 wants to do the thing and your system 2 is not sure how.
  2. your system 2 wants to do the thing and your system 1 is not sure it wants to do the thing.
  • The healthy part of you wants to diet; the social part of you is worried about the impact on your social life.

(now borrowing from Common human goals)

  • Your desire to live forever wants you to take a medication every morning to increase your longevity; your desire for freedom does not want to be tied down to a bottle of pills every morning.
  • Your desire for a legacy wants you to stay late at work; your desire for quality family time wants you to leave the office early.

The solution:

The solution is to cultivate the interest; or the desire to do the thing. From the initial point of interest or desire – you can move forward; do some research to either convince your system 2 of the benefits, or work out how to do the thing to convince your system 1 that it is possible/viable/easy enough.  Or maybe after some research the thing seems impossible.  I offer Cultivating the desire as a step along the way to working it out.

Not all X goals are automatically easy to do.  Give yourself some time; count the stepping stones and see how you go.

Short post for today; Cultivate the desire to do X.


Meta: time to write 1.5 hours.

My table of contents contains my other writing

Posted in models of thinking, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

In support of Yak Shaving

Yak shaving is heralded as pretty much “the devil” of trying to get things done.  The anti-yak shaving movement will identify this problem as being one of focus.  The moral of the story they give is “don’t yak shave“.

Originally posted in MIT’s media lab with the description:

Any seemingly pointless activity which is actually necessary to solve a problem which solves a problem which, several levels of recursion later, solves the real problem you’re working on.

But I prefer the story by Seth Godin:

“I want to wax the car today.”

“Oops, the hose is still broken from the winter. I’ll need to buy a new one at Home Depot.”

“But Home Depot is on the other side of the Tappan Zee bridge and getting there without my EZPass is miserable because of the tolls.”

“But, wait! I could borrow my neighbor’s EZPass…”

“Bob won’t lend me his EZPass until I return the mooshi pillow my son borrowed, though.”

“And we haven’t returned it because some of the stuffing fell out and we need to get some yak hair to restuff it.”

And the next thing you know, you’re at the zoo, shaving a yak, all so you can wax your car.

I disagree with the conclusion to not yak shave, and here’s why.


The problem here is that you didn’t wax the car because you spent all day shaving yaks (see also “there’s a hole in my bucket“).  In a startup that translates to not doing the tasks that get customers – the tasks which get money and actually make an impact, say “playing with the UI”.  It’s easy to see why such anti-yak shaving sentiment would exist (see also: bikeshedding, rearranging deck chairs on the titanic, hamming questions).  You can spend a whole day doing a whole lot of nothings; getting to bed and wonder what you actually accomplished that day (hint: a whole lot of running in circles).

Or at least that’s what it looks like on the surface.  But let’s look a little deeper into what the problems and barriers are in the classic scenario.

  1. Want to wax car
  2. Broken hose
  3. Hardware store is far away
  4. No EZpass for tolls
  5. Neighbour won’t lend the pass until pillow is returned
  6. Broken mooshi pillow
  7. Have to go get yak hair.

So it’s not just one problem, but a series of problems that come up in a sequence.  Hopefully by the end of the list you can turn around and walk all the way straight back up the list.  But in the real world there might even be other problems like, you get to the hardware store and realise you don’t know the hose-fitting size of your house so you need to call someone at home to check…

On closer inspection; this sort of behaviour is not like bikeshedding at all.  Nor is it doing insignificant things under the guise of “real work”.  Instead this is about tackling what stands in the way of your problem.  In problem solving in the real world, Don’t yak shave” is not what I have found to be the solution.  In experiencing this the first time it feels like a sequence of discoveries.  For example, first you discover the hose.  Then you discover the EZpass problem, then you discover the pillow problem, at which point you are pretty sick of trying to wax your car and want a break or to work on something else.


I propose that classic yak shaving presents a very important sign that things are broken.  In order to get to the classic scenario we had to

  1. have borrowed a pillow from our neighbour,
  2. have it break and not get fixed,
  3. not own our own EZpass,
  4. live far from a hardware store,
  5. have a broken hose, and
  6. want to wax a car.

Each open problem in this scenario presents an open problem or an open loop.  Yak shaving presents a warning sign that you are in a Swiss-cheese model scenario of problems.  This might sound familiar because it’s the kind of situation which leads to the Fukushima reactor meltdown.  It’s the kind of scenario when you try to work out why the handyman fell off your roof and died, and you notice that:

  1. he wasn’t wearing a helmet.
  2. He wasn’t tied on safely
  3. His ladder wasn’t tied down
  4. It was a windy day
  5. His harness was old and worn out
  6. He was on his phone while on the roof…

And you realise that any five of those things could have gone wrong and not caused much of a problem.  But you put all six of those mistakes together and line the wind up in just the right way, everything comes tumbling down.


Yak shaving is a sign that you are living with problems waiting to crash down.  And living in a situation where you don’t have time to do the sort of maintenance that would fix things and keep smoulders from bursting into flames.

I can almost guaranteed that when your house of cards all come falling down, it happens on a day that you don’t have the spare time to waste on ridiculous seeming problems.


What should you do if you are in this situation?

Yak shave.  The best thing you can do if half your projects are unfinished and spread around the room is to tidy up.  Get things together; organise things, initiate the GTD system (or any system), wrap up old bugs, close the open loops (advice from GTD) and as many times as you can; YAK SHAVE for all you are worth!

If something is broken, and you are living with it, that’s not acceptable.  You need a system in your life to regularly get around to fixing it.  Notepads, reviews, list keeping, set time aside for doing it and plan to fix things.

So I say, Yak Shave, as much, as long, and as many times as it takes till there are no more yaks to shave.


Something not mentioned often enough is a late addition to my list of common human goals.

Improve the tools available – sharpen the axe, write a new app that can do the thing you want, invent systems that work for you.  prepare for when the rest of the work comes along.

People often ask how you can plan for lucky breaks in your life.  How do you cultivate opportunity?  I can tell you right here and now, this is how.

Keep a toolkit at the ready, a work-space (post coming soon) at the ready, spare time for things to go wrong and things to go right.  And don’t forget to play.  Why do we sharpen the axe?  Clear Epistemics, or clear Instrumental Rationality.  Be prepared for the situation that will come up.

Yak Shave like your life depends on it.  Because your life might one day depend on it.  Your creativity certainly does.


Meta: this took 2.5 hrs to write.

Cross posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/lw/oql/in_support_of_yak_shaving/

Posted in life maintenance, self-improvement, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Preference over preference

With edits in blue.  This post duplicates the original.

Original post: Preference over preference


Each individual person has a preference.  Some preferences are strong, others are weak.  For many preferences it’s more complicated than that; they aren’t static, and we change our preferences all the time.  Some days we don’t like certain foods, sometimes we may strongly dislike a certain song then another time we may not care so much. Our preferences can change in scope, as well as intensity.  Some very brilliant economists tried to write theories about how we can predict market behaviour based on the revealed preferences of the people in the market, (which is the preferences that people have shown to have taken.  More on that in another post).

Sometimes people can have preferences over other people’s preferences.

  • Example 1: I prefer to be surrounded by people who enjoy exercise, that way I will be motivated to exercise more.
  • Example 2: I prefer to be surrounded by people who don’t care how they look, that way I look prettier than everyone else.
  • Example 3: I prefer when other people like my clothes.
  • Example 4: I prefer my partners to be polyamorous.
  • Example 5: I prefer people around me to not smoke.

The interesting thing about example 3; is that there are multiple pathways to achieve that preference:

  1. Find out what clothes people like and acquire those clothes, then wear them regularly.
  2. Find people who already like the clothes that you have, then hang around those people regularly.
  3. Change the preference of the people around you so that they like your clothes.

Changing someone’s preference over clothing seems pretty harmless, and that way you get to wear clothes you like, they get to like the clothes you wear, and you get to be around people who like the clothes you wear without finding new people. The scary and maybe uncomfortable thing is that the other examples can be also achieved through these means.

Example 4:

  1. Find out where poly people are, and hang out with them. (and ask to be their partners – etc)
  2. Find out which of the people you know are already poly and hang out with them  (and ask to be their partners – etc)
  3. Change the preferences of your existing partner/s.

Example 1:

  1. Find out where people who enjoy exercise hang out, and join them.
  2. Find out which of your friends already enjoy exercise and hang out with them.
  3. Change the preferences of those around you to also enjoy exercise.

Example 5:

  1. Find out where people don’t smoke, hang out in those places.
  2. Figure out who already doesn’t smoke and hang out with them.
  3. Encourage people you know to not smoke.

(I think that’s enough examples)


Is it wrong?

There is nothing inherently wrong with having a preference. Having a preference over another person’s preference is also not inherently wrong.  Such is the nature of having a preference (usually a strong one by the time you are dictating it to your surroundings).  What really matters is what you do about it.

In this day and age; no one would be discouraged from figuring out where people are not smoking and being in those places instead of the smoking places.  In this day and age you wouldn’t be criticised for finding out which of your friends don’t smoke and only hanging out with them either – but maybe it makes some people uncomfortable to do it, or to feel that the reciprocal might happen if someone strongly didn’t like their preferences.  In this day and age; encouraging those around you to not smoke can come across as an action with questionable motives.

So let’s look at some of the motives:

  1. I prefer it when people don’t smoke around me because then I don’t get second hand smoke.
  2. I prefer it when my friends don’t smoke because I don’t like chemical dependency in my environment.
  3. I prefer it when my friends don’t smoke so that we look better than that other group of people who do smoke.
  4. I prefer it when my friends don’t smoke because I don’t want them to get cancer and die (and not be around to be my friends any more).

Before launching into noble excuse territory…  Motive 1 seems very much about self-preservation.  We can’t really fault an entity for trying to self-preserve.

Motive 2 is a more broad example of self-preservation – the idea that having dependency in your environment might negatively impact you enough to warrant the need to maintain an environment without it – it’s a stretch, but not an unreasonable self-preservation drive.

Motive 3 appears to be a superficial drive to be better than other people.  We often don’t like admitting that this is the reason we do things; but I don’t mind it either.  If it were me; I’d get pretty tired of being motivated by *keeping up with the Joneses* type attitudes but some people care greatly about that.

Motive 4 seems like a potentially altruistic desire to protect your friends; but then it seems less so once you include the bracketed sub-motive.


Herein lies the problem.  If a preference looks like it is designed to improve someone else’s life like “others shouldn’t smoke” (remember that “looks like to me” is equivalent to “I believe it looks like…”), and we believe that having a preference over their preference would improve their life – should we enforce that preference?  Do we have a right or even a burden to encourage those around us to quit smoking? To take up exercise?  To become poly?  To like us (or our clothes)?

The idea of preference over preference is a big one.  What if my preference is that people eat my birthday cake? and Bob’s preference is that he sticks to his diet today?  Who should win?  It’s My Birthday. On Bob’s birthday he doesn’t have to eat cake, but on My Birthday he does.  Or does he?

The truth is neither way is the best way.  Sometimes hypothetical bob should eat the birthday cake and sometimes hypothetical birthday-kid should respect other people’s dietary choices.  What we really have control over is our own preference for ourselves.  My only advice it to tread delicately when having preferences over other people’s preferences.


If we think we know better (and we might but also might not) and are trying to uphold a preference over a preference (p/p), then what happens?

Either we are right, we are wrong, or something else happens.  And depends on whether the other party conformed or not (or did something else).  Then what happens when things resolve.

Examples:

  1. A is smoking
  2. B says not to because it’s bad for you
  3. A doesn’t stop
  4. It turns out to be bad for you
  5. A gets sick

B was right, tried to push a p/p and lost.  (either by not pushing hard enough or by A being stubborn). Did the p/p serve any good here?  Should it have happened?  What if an alternative 5 exists; “A keeps smoking, never gets sick and lives to 90”.  Then was the p/p useful?

  1. A is monogamous
  2. B says to be poly
  3. A does
  4. It goes badly
  5. A is hurt

B was wrong, tried to push a p/p and won.  But was wrong and shouldn’t have pushed it? Or maybe A shouldn’t have conformed.

This can be represented in a table:

  B prefers to maintain P/P B does not maintain P/P
A is susceptible to pressure A gives in A does not change (because there is no pressure)
A is not susceptible A does not change (stubborn) A does not change (because there is no pressure)

And a second table of results:

change was negative (or caused a negative result)

change was positive (or caused a positive result)

A is susceptible

A loses.

A wins!

A is not susceptible

A wins!

A loses.

Assuming also that if A loses; B takes a hit as well.  Ideally we want everyone to win all the time. But just showing these things in a table is not enough.  We should be assigning estimated probability to these choices as well.

For example (my made up numbers of whether I think smoking will lead to a bad result):

Smoking:

98% smoking causes problems

2% smoking does not cause problems.

If we edit the earlier table:

Smoking

B prefers to maintain P/P

B does not maintain P/P

A is susceptible to pressure

A gives in (2% estimate that the change was pointless)

A does not change (because there is no pressure) (98% estimate that this is a bad outcome)

A is not susceptible to pressure

A does not change (stubborn) (98% estimate that this is a bad outcome)

A does not change (because there is no pressure) (98% estimate that this is a bad outcome)

To an aspiring rationalist; seeing your p/p table with estimates should help to understand whether they should take you up on fulfilling your preference or not.  Assuming of course that rationalists never lie; and can accurately estimate the confidence of their beliefs.

If you meet someone with a 98% belief they should be able to produce evidence that will also reasonably convince you of similar ideas and encourage you to update your beliefs.  So maybe in the smoking case A should be listening to B; or checking the evidence very seriously.


What should you do when you hold a strong p/p that will be to your benefit at the same time as being to someone else’s detriment.  (and part 2: what if you are unsure of the benefit or detriment)

Examples:

B want’s A to try a new street drug “splice”.  B says it’s lots of fun and encourages A to do it.  B is unsure of the risks; but sure of the benefits (lots of fun).  Should B encourage A? (what more do we need to know to make that sort of judgement call?)

B has a sexual interest that is specific, and A’s are indifferent B could easily encourage A to “try out this”.  should B?

B has an old crappy car that B doesn’t like very much.  B prefers to make friends with shady A’s who will steal the car.  then B can claim on insurance that it was stolen. and get a nicer care with the payout.  Should B?

B wants A to pay for the two of them to go on a carnival ride.  the cost is simple (several dollars) the benefit is not.  Should B pressure A?  (what more do we need to know in order to answer that question?)

A always crosses the street dangerously because they are often running late.  B believes that A should be more safe – walk a distance to the nearest crossing before crossing the road; B knows that this will make A late.  Should B pressure A? (will more information help us answer?)


It was suggested that the Veil of ignorance might help to create a rule in this situation.  However the bounds of this situation dictate that you know which party you are; and that you have a preference over a preference.  So the Veil of ignorance does not so much apply to give us insight.

  1. It is possible to be a selfish entity, hold p/p and encourage others to fulfil your preference
  2. it is also possible to be a non-influential entity, and never push a preference over others.
  3. it is possible to be a stubborn entity and never conform to someone else’s p/p.
  4. It is also possible to be a conforming entity and always conform.

It is also possible to be a mix of these 4 in different situations and/or different preferences.


Partial Solution

Know your preferences, know your p/p’s and think very carefully about pushing your p/p’s, hiding your p/p’s; changing your preferences to conform, or being needlessly stubborn about your preferences.  (warning: this is hard; don’t think it’s easy just because it fits into one sentence)

Knowing what your strong preferences are; knowing which of your preferences are potentially not beneficial for others and understanding whether you have a tendency to push your p/p on other people will possibly help you to be more careful when handling p/p and avoid manipulating people (to their detriment).  In addition to this; knowing what culture you come from and what culture others come from will help to know how weak p/p might be misinterpreted as strong p/p (see “ask culture”, “guess culture” and “tell culture”). (some cultures aim to please when asked, and ask little of each other; some cultures are stubborn, vocal and demanding.  In the middle of the two cultures is the crazy-confused zone.  Of course these are the obvious cases.  Sometimes cultural taboo will come up around some topics and not others; i.e. dinner etiquette might be something you never ask about – because it would be bad etiquette; but expressing a strong preference over what you want to drink is expected)

In conclusion there are no rules to be drawn around p/p other than – Try to understand it; and how it can go wrong and be careful.


Meta: 4.5 hours to write, 30mins to take feedback and edit.  Thanks to the slack for being patient while I asked tricky example questions.

My Table of contents – contains links to the other things I have written.

Further comments adjustments and suggestions welcome.

Posted in models of thinking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Black box knowledge

This post is a duplicate of the original.

Original post: Black box knowledge


When we want to censor an image we put a black box over it.  Over the area we want to censor.  In a similar sense we can purposely censor our knowledge.  This comes in particular handiness when thinking about things that might be complicated but we don’t need to know.


A deliberate black box around how toasters work would look like this:

bread -> black box -> toast

Not all processes need knowing, for now a black box can be a placeholder for the future.


With the power provided to us by a black box, we can identify what we don’t know.  We can say; Hey!  I don’t know what a toaster is but it would be about 2 hours to work it out.  if I ever did want to work it out, I could just spend two hours to do it.  Until then; I saved myself two hours.  If we take other more time-burdensome fields it works even better.  Say tax.

Need to file tax -> black box accountant -> don’t need to file my tax because I got the accountant to do it for me.

I know I can file my own tax, but that might be 100-200 hours of knowing everything an accountant knows about tax.  (It also might be 10 hours depending on your country and their tax system).  For now I can assume that hiring an accountant saved me a number of hours in doing it myself.  So – Winning!


Take car repairs.  On the one hand; you could do it yourself and unpack the black box, or you could trade your existing currency  $$ (which you already traded your time to earn) for someone else’s skills and time to repair the car.  The system looks like this:

Broken car -> black box mechanic -> working car

By deliberately not knowing how it works; we can tap out of even trying to figure it out for now.  The other advantage is that we can look at; not just what we know in terms of black boxes but more importantly what we don’t know.  We can build better maps by knowing what we don’t know.


Computers:

Logic gates -> Black box computeryness -> www.lesswrong.com

Or maybe it’s like this: (for more advanced users)

Computers:

Logic gates -> flip flops -> Black box CPU -> black box GPU -> www.lesswrong.com


The black-box system happens to also have a meme about it:

Step 1. Get out of bed

Step 2. Build AGI

Step 3. ?????

Step 4. Profit

Only now we have a name for deliberately skipping finding out how step 3 works.


Another useful system:

Dieting

Food in (weight goes up) -> black box human body -> energy out (weight goes down)


Make your own black box systems in the comments.


Meta: short post, 1.5 hour to write, edit and publish. Felt it was an idea that provides useful ways to talk about things.  Needed it to explain something to someone, now all can enjoy!

My Table of contents has my other writings in it.

All suggestions and improvements welcome!

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Noble excuses

I was talking to a lady in her 60s who was losing weight, and exercising.  She said to me; “All my life, my husband was an iron man.  I felt terribly embarrassed, like everyone in the room was looking at me and thinking – how could he be with her”.  She confided that she wanted to lose weight for completely superficial reasons, really dumb reasons of caring what people thought about what she looked like.  She asked me if this made her a bad person, that she was doing things for the wrong reasons.  We just covered Valid and invalid excuses, the territory of excuses overlaps quite heavily with the territory of goals.  We make excuses and decisions to do some things and not other things because of our goals.  Earlier in the conversation, my friend also shared the usual “get fit, be healthy” attitude that is the more noble reason to be getting fit.

I wouldn’t be the first to name this concept.  There is a class of excuse that is known as the noble excuse.  A noble excuse is the excuse for the action that you are making that sounds the most noble of the possible excuse space.  Which is to say; there are often reasons for doing something that extend beyond one or two reasons, and beyond the reason you want to tell people right away.

When I tell my friends I didn’t go for a run this morning because I “Don’t want to be late for work”. That’s so noble.  It had nothing to do with me being out late the night before, it’s raining, the grass is wet, I have hayfever, I didn’t get enough sleep, missed my alarm and woke up late.  No it’s all for caring about being late for work.

Also coming in the form of Noble justifications, a noble excuse is tricky because it acts as an applause light.  It tells the guilty brain, “okay you can stop looking now we found out why”, it’s safe to say that they don’t really help us, so much as save face among others or even to ourselves.


Speaking of a noble excuse

“Is that the real reason or is that just a noble excuse”

“Let’s not settle on the first noble excuse, what other reasons could there be for these events”

“I wish I could give a noble excuse for being late, but the truth is that I have a bad habit of leaving home late and missing the bus.  Next week I will be trying out setting my watch to a few minutes faster to try to counteract my bad habit.”

“That’s a pretty embarrassing mistake, is there a noble excuse that we can pass on to the client?”


Dealing with a noble excuse

Not all noble excuses are bad.  If you notice someone making a noble excuse, it usually doesn’t hurt to double check if there isn’t another reason behind those actions.  There’s not a lot to understanding noble excuses.  It’s about being aware of your excuses and connecting them back to their underlying goals.

Think carefully about the excuses you are making.


Meta: this took an hour to write.

Cross posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/oqe/noble_excuses/

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Procrastination checklist

This post duplicates my original.

Original post: Procrastination checklist


This list is a revision of this checklist: http://lesswrong.com/lw/hgd/10step_antiprocrastination_checklist/

1. What is the task? Make sure you’re going to focus on one thing at a time.  Write it down (helps some people).  (If you need – start with the big picture, one sentence of “what is this for”)

Can you do it now? (If yes then do it)

2. How long will you work until you take a break?  Prepare to set a timer and commit to focusing.

Can you do it now? (If yes then do it)

3. What are the parts to this task?  Break things down until they are in *can do it now* steps, if you have a small number of steps that can now be done; stop writing more steps and start doing them.

Can you do it right now?  (If yes then do it)

4. What’s an achievable goal for this sitting? Set a reasonable expectation for yourself.  (until it’s done, 1000 words, complete research on X part)

Can you do it now? (If yes then do it)

5. How can you make it easier to do the task?

  • Is the environment right?  Desk clear, well lit area…

  • Do you have something to drink? Get yourself some tea, coffee, or water.

  • Are distractions closed? Shut the door, quit Tweetdeck, close the Facebook and Gmail tabs, and set skype to “Do not disturb.”

  • What music will you listen to inspire yourself to be productive? Put on a good instrumental playlist! (video game soundtracks are good)

  • Do you have the right books open?  The right tools in reach?

  • Is your chair comfortable?

  • Can you make it harder to do the distracting or <not this> thing?

  • (step 3 is going to help to make it easier)

Can you do it now? (If yes then do it)

6. Why are you doing this task?  Trace the value back until you increase the desire to do it.

Can you do it now? (If yes then do it)

7. Will gamifying help you? What are some ways to gamify the task?  Try to have fun with it!

Can you do it now? (If yes then do it)

8. What are some rewards you can offer yourself for completing sections of the task? Smiling, throwing your arms up in the air and proclaiming victory, or M&M’s all count, a trip to the beach, a nice milkshake…

Can you do it now? (If yes then do it)

9. are you sure you want to do it?  Deciding either to; not do it now; or not do it at all; are also fine.  It’s up to you to make that decision, keeping in mind what “not doing it” means in it’s entirety.


In first-person form:

1. What is the task? Make sure I’m going to focus on one thing at a time.  Write it down (helps some people).  (If I need – start with the big picture, one sentence of “what is this for”)

Can I do it now? (If yes then do it)

2. How long will I work until you take a break?  Prepare to set a timer and commit to focusing.

Can I do it now? (If yes then do it)

3. What are the parts to this task?  I want to break things down until they are in *can do it now* steps, if I have a small number of steps that can now be done; I will stop writing more steps in the process and start doing them.

Can I do it right now?  (If yes then do it)

4. What’s an achievable goal for this sitting? Set a reasonable expectation for myself.  (until it’s done, 1000 words, complete research on X part)

Can I do it now? (If yes then do it)

5. How can I make it easier to do the task?

  • Is the environment right?  Desk clear, well lit area…

  • Do I have something to drink? Get yourself some tea, coffee, or water.

  • Are my distractions closed? Shut the door, quit Tweetdeck, close the Facebook and Gmail tabs, set skype to “Do not disturb.”

  • What music will I listen to, to inspire myself to be productive? Put on a good instrumental playlist!

  • Do I have the right books open?  The right tools in reach?

  • Is my chair comfortable?

  • Can I make it harder to do the distracting or <not this> thing?

  • (step 3 is going to help to make it easier)

Can I do it now? (If yes then do it)

6. Why am I doing this task?  Trace the value and feeling back until I increase the desire to do it.

Can I do it now? (If yes then do it)

7. Will gamifying help me? What are some ways to gamify the task?

Can I do it now? (If yes then do it)

8. What are some rewards I can offer myself for completing sections of the task? Smiling, throwing my arms up in the air and proclaiming victory, M&M’s all count, a trip to the beach, a nice milkshake…

Can I do it now? (If yes then do it)

9. am I sure I want to do it?  Deciding either to – not do it now; or not do it at all; are also fine.  It’s up to me to make that decision, keeping in mind what “not doing it” means in terms of the task at hand.


Meta: This took about 2 hours to put together; between writing, rewriting, reordering, editing feedback and publishing.

I couldn’t decide whether 2nd person or 1st person was better so I wrote both.  Please let me know which you prefer.

Any adjustments or suggestions are welcome.

My table of contents is where you will find the other things I have written.

feedback on if this works or helps is also welcome.

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On excuses and validity

We learn’t yesterday about what is a problem? I want to talk about one specific aspect of the barrier.  The part of the barrier that is inside your head.  The one that makes excuses.

The barrier inside my own head.  The barrier that says, “ice-cream, but I would have to get up out of my chair for that” and decides against it.

Another way to think about one of the classes of in-head barrier is to call them excuses.  The reasons your mind makes up as to why you can’t do the thing.  If we create a class of “excuses”, we can talk more about it.

Let’s take the simple goal of going for a run in the morning, and look at some of the excuses that might arise from trying to avoid it:

  • I don’t feel like it
  • I wanted to sleep in
  • it’s raining out
  • It’s too early
  • It’s too late
  • It’s too cold
  • It’s too hot
  • It’s too dark
  • I feel sick
  • I have no one to go with
  • I have a broken leg
  • I have asthma and can’t run
  • It’s my rest day
  • I am running late to work
  • I don’t have the time

The thing about excuses is that they are all equally valid.  “not feeling like it” is just as valid as, “I have a broken leg” as “I don’t have the time”.  But also the thing about excuses is that they are all equally invalid as well.  “It’s too dark” is just as much an invalid excuse as “it’s raining out”, as “I have a broken leg”.

What really is an excuse that is valid?  Well on a day that you got to bed at 4am and you need more sleep than waking up at 7am to go for a run; then yes.  “I wanted to sleep in” is a valid excuse.  On a day where you sleep from 7pm and wake up at 7am refreshed with a 12 hour sleep under your belt.  Well then.  Less of an excuse then.  Which is to say; The validity of an excuse depends on the situation in which it is made.

As I said above, any excuse is a valid excuse.  And any excuse is an invalid one.  To a person who gets sick easily; “it’s raining” is a real excuse, to someone who can probably run in the rain; that’s not much of an excuse.

All excuses are real excuses.  There are no rules for which excuses are valid excuses and which excuses are not valid excuses.  The solution lies in sorting out the goal and the counter-goals.  I have referenced Kegan’s immunity to change beforemore than once.  I have talked about barriers before too.  I previously said:

What we are doing with our time is everything else that we are choosing not to do with our time.

This is what excuses do.  They (sneakily) say, “I am not going to pursue that goal X, because I am instead going to pursue that goal Y”.

The simple “I don’t want to go for a run because it’s raining”, is really the more complicated and long winded, “I considered my preference of making sure I don’t get sick by avoiding cold and windy conditions and I compared it to my preference of exercising in the morning by going for a run and I decided that I would rather not go for a run, and instead avoid the cold and windy conditions”.  Which is fine.

Ideally any excuse that you make can be written out in it’s long winded form.  In this form the self melts away, the guilt melts away, the shoulds disappear.  all that is left is several goals or several preferences battling it out for what is ultimately the action you take.

What about when we take the long winded of, “I don’t want to go for a run because it’s raining”, and we get something like this, “I weighed up my preference for not getting dripped on while I go for a run alongside my preference to exercise by running in the morning and I realised I don’t want to go running in the rain anyway”.  Well, maybe then it’s time to consider if this is a valid excuse for you.  Or maybe it will be completely obvious whether it is or is not a valid excuse when you lay it out like that.


Putting it to use

0. Be willing to try this.  Precommit to giving it a shot for the next 10 times you notice you make an excuse to not do something.

  1. Noticing.  I can’t really explain how to notice when you make excuses.  But in order to do something about it; you need some kind of trigger, some kind of voice in your head that goes, “hey, wait…  Am I sure that’s not an excuse?”.  Look for times when you say no.  Look for times when people challenge your automatic actions.
  2. Make it a long winded excuse.  Take the surface reasons and trace them back to the goals at the root of the statement.
  3. Lay them out against each other.  You can do this in your head, you can do this on a piece of paper, or a spreadsheet.  In a conversation with a friend.  It doesn’t really matter how you do that.
  4. Choose.  Pick which goals you want to fulfil.  Or investigate how to do all the things you want to do.  Maybe there’s an indoor exercise routine that isn’t running outside that still is exercise but doesn’t get you rained on.  Ideally meeting all the goals is the intention.
  5. Share.  Write back if it worked, if you discovered excuses you make that you can now stop making.

The funny thing about excuses is that they don’t feel like you are making excuses from the inside.  They feel like you are making decisions.  If you hold certain goals strongly enough, then it’s clear when you fail to carry them out.

The great part about this process is you get to say, “yes!  I don’t want to go for a run because I care about not getting sick”, you get to feel good about your preferences.  Even as they take your other preferences and smush them into the ground.  You can feel good about choosing that path because it is your choice.

If that’s not what you want – then it’s time to change your preferences!  Wilfully and because you want it.  with your active brain, not with your passive-whatever “more junk foods” brain.

Next up: Noble excuses


Meta: this took two hours to write.  About half way I got tired and distracted and the rest took a lot longer to write.

Cross posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/lw/oq7

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Instrumental behaviour: Inbox zero – A guide – v2

This post is modified from the original.

Original post: Instrumental behaviour: Inbox zero – A guide


This will be brief.

Inbox zero is a valuable thing to maintain.  Roughly promoted around the web as having an empty inbox.

An email inbox collects a few things:

  • junk
  • automatic mail sent to you
  • personal mail sent to you
  • work sent to you
  • (maybe – work you send to yourself because that’s the best way to store information for now)

An inbox is a way to keep track of “how much I have to do yet”.  But that’s not really what it is.  Somewhere along the lines from “I will send via courier a hand scribed letter to yonder”, became newsletters, essays, spam, and many more things mixed together.  Because of this; iit’st’s pretty hard to tell how much work is really in an inbox.  Is it 5 minutes to read this one, or do I have to write an essay back?  It’s pretty important to be in understanding of what volume of work awaits you.  The trick to doing this is doing the incredibly valuable task of getting to inbox zero.

The basic philosophy is that a full inbox and unread emails are not a good place to be keeping at bay the unknowns of “how much work I have to do”.  Instead; other lists, folders, or organisation systems are better at that.  And if you don’t already do it; have ONE list (or like, this advice is complicated, there are different types of lists, but if you have more than one of the same type of lists, you are bound to confuddle up your process and end up doing the other ones that you didn’t need to do instead of the ones that you did need to do).

This guide is for anyone with bajillions of emails in their inbox, some read; some not.  If you have an email system in place; don’t change it.  if not – get one.  (maybe not this one – but do it).

 


 

0. decide that this is a good idea (this can be done after) but mostly I want to say – don’t half-arse this, you might end up in a no-mans-land between the old and the new.

1. A program.

I recommend Thunderbird because it’s free.  I used to work in a webmail system but the speed of webmail is a joke in comparison to local mail.  also offline-powers are handy from time to time.  (Disadvantage – not always having backups for everything, alternative: IMAP – duplicates online and offline.)

2. Archive system

This being 2017 we are going to make a few main folders.

  • Old as all hell (or other friendly name)
  • 2015
  • 2016
  • 2017

Anything older than 2014 will probably never get looked at again; (just ask any email veteran) That’s okay – that’s what archives are for.

3. Old

Put anything old into the old folder

4. 2015

That was two years ago!  it will also go the same way as old-as-all-hell, but for now it can sit in 2015.

5. 2016

two options here – either:

a. leave them in your inbox and through the year sort them into the 2015 folder; remembering that things that old should go to sleep easy.

b. put them in 2016 where you can look at them when you need them.

6. 2017

There are a few simple behaviours that make the ongoing use of the system handy.

a. if you read a thing, and you have no more to do with it; file it away into 2017

b. if you read a thing and still have more to do; leave it in the inbox (If you can resolve it in under 5 minutes; try to do it now)

c. if you don’t plan to read a thing AND it’s not important AND you don’t want to delete it; I strongly advise unsubscribing from the source; finding a way to stop them from coming in, or setting up a rule to auto-sort into a folder. (or set up a second email address for signing up to newsletters)

d.  Every automatically generated email has an unsubscribe button at the bottom.  If you have a one-time unsubscribe policy you will never have to see the same junk twice.

e. do some work; answer emails; send other emails etc.  and file things as you go.

f. mammoth – these emails are huge-ass things.  they are the result of a days worth of work to do, and send back the results.  Don’t leave them in the inbox.  Something that big belongs on a serious to-do list.  You can generate other folders.  Including a folder for those juggling balls that are up in the air, waiting for the replies to come back, as well as mammoths, and a folder for emails from mum that you can’t delete but you also can’t quite file.

7. other email folders

sure sometimes things need a bit of preserving; sometimes things need sorting – go ahead and do that.  Don’t let me stop you.

Using this fairly ordinary system I can get my total email time down to about half an hour a week.

Don’t like it? find a better system.  But don’t leave them all there.

Final note: I have an email address for things I subscribe to that is separate to the email address I give out or use; this way I can check my subscriptions quickly without mixing them up with work/life/important things.

 


 

This post came out of a discussion in the IRC.  It took 30mins to write.  This was written with no research and there are likely better systems in existence.  It partially incorporates a “Getting Things Done” attitude but I might post more about that soon.

Feel free to share your system in the comments, or suggest improvements.

Also posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/oq2/

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What is a problem?

I originally posed this idea in my list of short stubs.  Under that heading I briefly outlined:

What is a problem – On the path of problem solving, understanding what a problem is will help you to understand how to attack it.  Nothing more complicated than this picture to explain it.  The barrier is a problem.  This doesn’t seem important on it’s own but as a foundation for thinking about problems it’s good to have  sitting around somewhere.

whatisaproblem


I want to expand on that a bit more. I have labelled some states in this picture:

  • Present state
  • Goal state
  • Barrier to the goal
  • Path to the goal

Present state

All things being unchanged; prior to actions in pursuit of a goal, this is where you are.  Sitting at home in my chair at my computer I have not yet decided I want to go get ice-cream.  If I do nothing, I might eventually end up getting ice-cream by happenstance.  I may casually interact with friends who encourage me to get ice-cream with them this evening.  Nothing entirely stops me from getting ice-cream but also nothing propels me to do it either.  Without goals, without paths, you can live a lot of life, casually random-walking your way through the galaxy, encountering what you encounter, and responding at will to those stimuli.  We might describe a specimen who only cares about the present state, as having low agency.

Goal state

Let’s pretend that we duplicated the universe, with the slight modification that I am now eating ice-cream.  That might be my goal.  Or as close as possible as I can get to that goal-state.  There are lots of things that are not ice-cream-goal state and lots of things that come close.  I could eat my toes, I could eat some cheese I have in my fridge which is a bit cold.  I could eat an apple, I could eat some ice cubes, I could drink a glass of milk, I could make my own ice-cream, I could give ice-cream to other people.  All of these things are not quite the goal, but are quite close.  Notice that this goal doesn’t currently include my path to ice-cream.  Just that I have a goal now.

Path

We can visualise a path in many ways.  This should be unsurprising.  The fact is that if I want ice-cream, I need to get up out of my chair and look in my freezer for the ice-cream.  If I want to be eating it I probably also need a spoon and some way to open the lid of the container.  But actually when I get to the freezer I remember I don’t keep ice-cream in my house because I am on a diet and that slows me down from eating ice-cream.  (Thanks past-me)  With that in mind my corrected path is actually to find my money, exit my house, and go to the store where I can buy more ice-cream.  (or make my own ice-cream) or any number of other pathways to ice-cream.

System 2 is very good at paths.  So good that in fact that it forgets about what can go wrong, and the barriers.  It’s the part of my brain that will tell me that the nearest ice-cream is in the store and I can walk right up to the freezer section and shove the ice-cream into my face (Disregarding the need for spoons, the need for money to pay for the ice-cream, and the need to be wearing a shirt when I leave my house).

If this seems obvious; it is only obvious because it already all makes sense to you.  For someone without an understanding of states or paths or goals this might be a solid learning step.

Barrier

A barrier is what gets in the way of the path.  There are always barriers and most of them are overcome without a second though.  As you think deeper and harder about barriers they get more complicated, and start encompassing more details.  The barriers to me getting my ice-cream include knowing how to walk (which I know) and knowing how to use my eyeballs.  The simple barriers get overlooked because we already have them down.

The more complicated barriers start to pop up as you think more about the goal, or set up more complicated goals, or goals that are further away (geographically, mentally, metaphorically, some measure of hardness of goal).

I have to go to the store to get ice-cream.  I need social convention down pat, so I remember to put a shirt on.  And I need money to pay for ice-cream. Hey, I probably need a functional democracy, not to mention electricity, production lines, hygiene and a whole lot more built on top just so I can do that.  Assuming all those great things are there, what if I don’t have money.  Well I would have to work, which means I need a functional economy, some way to trade my abilities for currency (another thing I need) which I can later exchange for ice-cream.

There’s another type of barrier that doesn’t quite fit with the rest, and that’s the barrier inside my own head.  The barrier that says, “ice-cream, but I would have to get up out of my chair for that” and decides against it.  Ice-cream as a goal, is not so desperate that I would die if I didn’t get it, but maybe there are goals that are more serious.  Having enough money, friends, family, what are your goals?  Have you seen the list of common human goals?  Each goal has barriers to completing it.  And each barrier is able to be stared at intently and questioned.

Is this barrier going to stop you?  Or are you making excuses?


Next post: On excuses and validity


Meta: This took an hour to write and will be a foundation for a few posts that follow.

If this doesn’t seem all that big a deal, well. It’s not.  Unless your problem solving, solution seeking barrier facing system is not functioning at optimum.  In that case: knowing how it works, knowing what is or is not functioning, being able to debug this process.  That’s breaking down the meta barriers.

Cross posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/lw/oq3

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